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The Art of War, Sun Tzu: Ancient Wisdom for HardStyle Martial Artists

January 19, 2012 05:00 PM

GaryMusic ancientwisdom article
The nature of my work, bouncer and bartender through college and 22 years in the military in dangerous places all over the world unfortunately put me in many self-protection situations. I am still here so I did something right. What was it?
I used defense to protect myself. Sounds simple but I think you will discover in the following article the concept of defense is more complicated than most martial artists understand.
I began my martial arts training like most in the early 1970's, practicing taekwondo, Japanese karate-do and judo at local martial arts schools. My instructors were highly competent in their various martial arts but something was missing, I did not realize it at the time but I do now.
Now fast forward to 1980, I am a second dan in several "do" styles and I myself am accomplished for the times.
Then I met the late Sensei Stan Hart, a collector of martial arts if you will. Sensei Hart like I had black belts in various "do" arts like Aikido and Shotokan karate-do. But Sensei Hart also studied a rare form of Okinawan kempo that I had never seen; this kempo was completely defensive in tactics and followed the Sun Tzu closely in strategy.
The first time I met Stan we were in a parking lot of a Chinese restaurant. He was trying to explain defense to me, a young strong karate man who thought he could knock down a brick wall if I wanted.
I told him, "Stan I have no idea what you are talking about and I am a second dan in karate and taekwondo I am sure my instructors would have told me these things". So Stan said attack me and I will show you. I asked him what attack? Stan said, "You choose the attack you are the attacker".
So I grabbed him by the right shoulder and launched my right hand at his jaw. I did not hold back I went after him hard.
I immediately felt his cover stop my attack and at the same moment felt a sharp pain on the inside of my left knee. Fleeting moments later I felt a pain in my neck just below the ear, this all happened in what seemed to me at the exact same moment. I was out; I mean drool on your chin on the asphalt out. Sensei Hart had a student for life.
Now please don't for a moment think I am putting down "do". I continued to study judo, taekwondo and karate-do all my life competing in many tournaments and having a wonderful time. I developed an ethical and moral code and a work ethic I will always value. I am simply pointing out this kempo had an entirely different emphasis, one of defensive tactics and raising technique only to the level of art.
Sun Tzu on taking "whole"
Sun Tzu said: "In sum, the method of employing the military. Taking a state whole is superior; destroying it is inferior to this. Taking an army whole is superior; destroying it is inferior to this. Taking a battalion whole is superior; destroying it is inferior to this. Taking a company whole is superior; destroying it is inferior to this. Taking a squad whole is superior; destroying it is inferior to this.

Therefore, one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the most skillful. Subduing the other's military without battle is the most skillful." Chapter 3 Strategy of Attack
The Art of War is an ancient wisdom text and arguably the source knowledge for defensive tactics and strategy used in Shuri lineage hard style kempo and karate. To understand kempo from Okinawa one must thoroughly understand the Sun Tzu. The running theme throughout the Sun Tzu is the concept of taking the enemy "whole". This is directly related to the concept in Shurite kempo of life protection.
Sun Tzu tells us to take an enemy whole is superior to destroying the enemy, Shurite kempo strategy would tell us to protect life is the goal of the skilled kempo practitioner. This is not simply a philosophy of peace or altruism but actually gives us a tactical advantage when protecting ourselves.
Defensive advantage is the least understood tactic in self protection and in a series of articles I will help you understand this important concept. It is also important to note when I use the term Shurite kempo I am not referring to a specific style of martial art but simply to the methods used and practiced by the Shuri palace guards training under Bushi Matsumura. Many modern karate styles from Okinawa, Japan and Korea are descended from this tradition so the following information will be useful for RKC members practicing this type of hard style martial art.
Sun Tzu on skill
Sun Tzu said: "So-called skill is to be victorious over the easily defeated. Thus the battles of the skilled are without extraordinary victory, without reputation for wisdom, and without merit for courage." Chapter 4 Form
The Art of War is a 6th century BCE treatise on strategy and tactics primarily concerning a state’s ability to protect itself. So why is it important to an individual martial artist? For one it is one of the best guides to recognizing skill, skill in yourself and others. This may seem like an easy thing to do but believe me this ability is not highly developed in the general population. The Sun Tzu will also aid you to recognize things that are utterly unskilled.
Sun Tzu said: "In seeing victory, not going beyond what everyone knows is not skilled. Victory in battle that all-under-heaven calls skilled is not skilled. Thus lifting the down of an autumn leaf does not mean great strength. Seeing the sun and the moon does not mean a clear eye. Hearing thunder does not mean a keen ear." Chapter 4 Form
So what is Sun Tzu trying to tell us here? Several things, beginning with the fact that many things that appear skilled are simply demonstrations. Rehearsed demonstrations show little skill besides the skill of demonstrating. Many times you will see a rehearsed self-defense demo that looks astounding but the skill being evoked (self protection) is not present at all. In itself this does not hinder the martial artist but spending your time practicing to demonstrate skill instead of actually becoming skilled is detrimental.
Sun Tzu tells us defeating the easily defeated is not skill. An attacker throwing a preplanned attack at a manageable speed is very easily defeated. This builds little skill and should be the very beginning progression.
Sun Tzu on training and demonstration martial arts:
Sun Tzu said: "And so when he seeks advantage, lure him. When he is in chaos, take him.
When he is substantial, prepare against him. When he is strong, avoid him. When he is wrathful, harass him. Attack where he is unprepared. Emerge where he does not expect it. These are the victories of the military lineage. They cannot be transmitted in advance.", Chapter 1 Appraisals
Demonstration training permeates the martial arts world. Many two-man type training sessions are simply to learn a technique then demonstrate it later for an instructor or for an audience. Many martial artists make a living doing seminars and must make the technique "look good" to sell themselves.
Most martial artists practice against a specific attack at a specific moment. The problem with this type training is the attacker will actually pick the time, place, method and most importantly he will pick the victim. The victim does not get to pick the attacker or any of these advantages. Sun Tzu would tell you that methods for victory cannot be transmitted in advance. This caveat specifically pertains to techniques against known attacks. We must somehow advance beyond this type training.
Sun Tzu on defense:
Sun Tzu said: "Invincibility is defense. Vincibility is attack. Defend and one has a surplus. Attack and one is insufficient.", Chapter 4 Form
in addition:
Sun Tzu Said: "Of old, those skilled at defense hid below the nine earths and moved above the nine heavens. Thus they could preserve themselves and be all-victorious."
You simply cannot practice offensive martial arts methods for self protection, you are not the attacker you are the defender. You must use defense. This is your only real hard advantage, for Sun Tzu tells us that there is invincibility in defense and vincibility in offense. An attacker cannot use an offensive movement without opening a hole in their defense. You as the victim cannot attack first, it simply will not happen. The attacker picks the time of the attack not you. The fact the attacker’s method is offense is your only advantage; he must have an opening if he uses offense. Since you are using defense you can have no openings, don't give up your only advantage. Remember the attacker owns time, ground, method and choice of victim.
When I watch martial artists practicing self-protection I almost always see them using offense not defense to stop the attack. Why? Because they can, the nature of the attacker – defender relationship is too cooperative when it should be confrontational. This is not philosophy I am referring to it is tactics and strategy. It boils down to this, if you can use an offensive movement against an attacker who starts first he is not a threat, in Sun Tzu's own words he would be easily defeated. Don't train to protect yourself against the easily defeated, train to protect yourself against the most viscous and tenacious attacker one could imagine. Do not underestimate your attacker; you will most likely have very little foreknowledge of his ability or intentions.
Sun Tzu on training:
Sun Tzu said: "In the past the skilled first made themselves invincible to await the enemy's vincibility. Invincibility lies in oneself. Vincibility lies in the enemy." Chapter 4 Form
in addition:
Sun Tzu said: "The ultimate in giving form to the military is to arrive at formlessness. When one is formless, deep spies cannot catch a glimpse and the wise cannot strategize. Rely on form to bring about victory over the multitude, and the multitude cannot understand. The elite all know the form by which I am victorious, but no one knows how I determine form. Do not repeat the means of victory, but respond to form from the inexhaustible." Chapter 6 The Solid and the Empty
So what does the great Sun Tzu recommend? He tells us to train properly and use progressions. To evaluate our skill and the skill of others and eventually although form is of utmost importance Sun Tzu tells us to become formless.
This is important because of the trend in the last 30 years of practical "bunkai" using fit in type movements for kata postures. Sun Tzu warns against this type of method for training.
Why? Primarily because people will try to back in a technique against a specific attack. One can look at a karate kata posture and envision all sorts of technique; I have even seen judo throws backed into proper karate kata. Does this mean the original author had this technique in mind, of course not.
Fit-ins can be helpful for beginning progressions but this method should go no further than that. Practice kata to perfect form then become formless, rise above the orthodox.
Sun Tzu on Appraisal and knowledge of self and attacker:
Sun Tzu said: "And so base it in the five. Compare by means of the appraisals. Thus seek out its nature. The first is Tao, the second is heaven, the third is Earth, the fourth is the general, the fifth is method." Chapter 1 Appraisals
In addition:
Sun Tzu said: "Knowing the other and knowing oneself,
In one hundred battles no danger.
Not knowing the other and knowing oneself,
One victory for one loss.
Not knowing the other and not knowing oneself,
In every battle certain defeat." Chapter 3 Strategy of Attack
The Sun Tzu is a short document but the meaning goes very deep. To deep to capture well in one article so in this first article I will examine how one can evaluate skill, skill of oneself and skill of others. This is done using the five elements of appraisal and is covered in Chapter one of the Sun Tzu. This part of the Sun Tzu is addressed to the Ruler. For an individual martial artist the Ruler is your ego or emotional self.
Let us examine how the five elements apply to a single person.
Tao – Way or Path, ones way of life.
Heaven – Elements we are unable to change, we go with it or against it.
Earth – Ground and or the physical situations one is in.
General – An individual's logical self our tactical mind.
Method – Proper training application for defense and controlling the advantages (shih)
In the second excerpt above Sun Tzu talks about knowledge of oneself and the attacker. This is done using the 5 elements and 7 appraisals. So knowing our self we simply need to count as Sun Tzu would say, take an appraisal of our self. But if we do not know who is going to attack us how can we know the attackers capabilities? We cannot, so we assume the worst. He is bigger, faster, meaner and more vicious and tenacious then we are. Remember he picked us we did not pick him.
This means we must not engage him in a fight but use defense and escape the attack. As soon as we leave our defensive method we will lose our only advantage.
How to apply this knowledge in your personal training:
Let us discuss method and some concrete training advice for hard style martial artists. How does one avoid the pitfalls Sun Tzu warns about when he talks about attempting to transmit victorious behavior in advance? For one do not practice specific technique against specific attacks, set up your two-man kata or self protection practice with a progressive resistance relationship between the attacker and the defender. This may sound obvious but in my experience it is somewhat rare.
So you may begin simply with the defender knowing that a high left hand is the attack and show the person how to properly cover the body and use defense. When he or she is accomplished at this add a high right, now the defender does not know which attack is coming high right or left. Then a low right, then low left, then push, then wrist grab. Get it? As you add in more variables the mission of the defender becomes more difficult and thus more formless.
Now simply varying the attack is not enough. The level of the intensity of the attack must also have a progression. So when a person for instance is escaping from certain grab now it is time for the attacker to hold the lock harder or throw the punch faster.
Some of this progression may be done with kumite but many dangerous movements have been removed from most hard style kumite practice methods, so two-man kata is necessary.
So when do you know you are in the method. Remember me talking about the perfect fit-ins we see many martial artists practicing. When you can have the attacker throw any attack, punch, push, grab, or kick at close range at any level or target and you are hitting movements that resemble fit-ins you are beginning to understand formlessness. Oh and by the way this is not a one step, by that I mean the attacker throws the attack from a no step distance, close range. Good luck it is not easy. So what is next in the attacker – defender relationship combinations of course.
In Summary:
This article is intended to be a brief overview of the Sun Tzu. In following articles we will dive deeper into the ideas of defense being superior to offense. How one can identify defense from offense, this is more difficult than you might think. And more on the Okinawan philosophy of life, protection as it relates to Sun Tzu's concept of taking whole. Eventually using the information in the articles, reading the Sun Tzu and practicing the training progressions one will begin to shape their mind to respond without hesitation in a defensive manner.
*The information and Sun Tzu excerpts are taken from the Demna Translation of the bamboo text of the Sun Tzu. This is a publication of the Shambhala Publication Company.

Sensei Music is available for seminars at .
Sensei Gary Music began training in Sang Moo Kwan Taekwondo in 1973 at the age of 13. Sang Moo Kwan Taekwondo is an offshoot of Shotokan Karate-do. Sensei Music attained a rank of first Dan in 1976 at the Gary Harris Taekwondo Institute in Mansfield Ohio. Gary began weight training at this time with his father, James Commodore Music, (101’st Airborne WWII and Korean war Vet) who also taught Mr. Music boxing, shooting and survival skills. These skills were later honed in the military as a USAF aviator and parachute rigger specialist, Officer Music retired in 2002.
During Sensei Music's 22 years in the military he traveled worldwide searching out instructors in Japan, Okinawa, Korea, Philippines and Thailand honing his hard style striking skills and becoming one of the countries leading authorities on old style kata training and advanced bunkai. Sensei Music also holds a black belt in Ju-jitsu, training with notable instructors such as Dr. Don Smith (taught by Don Dreager at the Kodokan) and John Saylor founder of Shin Gi Tai Ju-jitsu (seminar based). Sensei Music’s primary instructors are the noted Aikido and Karate Master Vic Louis, Kempo Master the late Stan Hart, kicking master and fighter the legendary Bill Wallace.
Sensei Music continued his study of Karate-Do to this day attaining 6th Dan ranking in Shotokan Karate-Do and Taekwondo. He also is ranked at 6th Dan in Shurite Kempo, and is the Chief Instructor for the Shurite Kempo Technique Association and the Ohio Kettlebell Club in Shiloh, Ohio. Sensei Music began studying Shurite Kempo with the late Sensei Stan Hart in 1980. All of Sensei Music’s rank is certified through the AIKA.
Mr. Music’s kettlebell training began 6 years ago in his basement as a self training hobby. In 2009 Sensei Music decided to search out the leading authority on kettlebells and receive formal training from Pavel Tsatsouline and the RKC staff. He is now a cert I RKC instructor and member of the RKC Advisory Board, and training for a RKC cert II level.